Good Deeds, Good Design: Unruh Furniture

Unruh Furniture is located in the historic Dallas Brake & Clutch Building. Photography by Josh Klein

Good Design, Good Deeds   There’s much to love about Unruh — and not all of it has to do with the company’s hand-built collection of custom furniture. Pronounced “un-roo,” the family-owned, Kansas City–based brand has opened a store in Deep Ellum inside the historic Dallas Brake & Clutch building. Dating to the 1930s, the long-empty structure was in bad shape. There was no electricity, no plumbing — that is, until Unruh owner Sam Unruh revived it, much as he rescued the abandoned 100-year-old cathedral in Kansas City where all of Unruh’s furniture is handmade. We’ll get to the furniture in a minute; first, let’s talk about Tables for Moms. That’s the name Unruh gave the charitable program he launched, which donates custom dining tables to single moms in need

Evan Stein finishes a table inside the 100-year-old cathedral in
Kansas City that houses Unruh's workshops. Josh Klein photo.

 Unruh Furniture. Photography by Josh Klein
        The idea started five years ago, after a conversation Unruh had with artisan Robert Cortez, his first employee back in Kansas City. Sawdust was flying as Cortez told his story of being raised by a single mom who struggled to make ends meet. The family only had a few pieces of furniture, all of it hand-me-downs. When a neighbor gifted them a new dining table, it changed their world. The table became a gathering place for the family, creating stability and a sense of home. Cortez’s story touched Unruh, who knew a single mom he thought could benefit from a table. “We did one, then we did it again the next month,” he says. Things snowballed, and the company has since given away more than 55 tables — one a month, each customized for the recipient. “We realized there are a heck of a lot of moms out there who could use a table,” he says. 

 Unruh Furniture. Photography by Josh Klein

 Unruh Furniture. Photography by Josh Klein

Benevolent endeavors aside, Unruh the company is known for its collection of roughly 150 furniture pieces, including tables of all kinds, chairs, beds, desks, bookcases, and sideboards. The look is clean-lined, with design elements that skew traditional, modern, or somewhere in between. Everything is made-to-order by hand at the Kansas City factory in a range of solid hardwoods, from cherry to maple, hickory, white oak, and walnut. Six stains, seven paint colors, and myriad sizes make for endless customization. While prices are on par with Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn, that’s where the comparison ends. “Our quality is much better than a big box store that ships from Asia,” Unruh says. “There’s just not a lot of companies out there making custom furniture.”

 Unruh Furniture. Photography by Josh Klein

Sam Unruh

        During the company’s monthly team lunch, Unruh reads aloud the stories of prospective moms who sent in their application for a table. The employees take a vote and determine the recipient. The range of beneficiaries is vast: a foster parent with five kids; a teacher recovering from cancer, whose son was diagnosed with leukemia; the mother of a newborn, whose husband had recently died. Tables For Moms has grown just as quickly as Unruh’s furniture business, with 200 applications pending. Their first Dallas recipient was selected earlier this year. 

        The company’s passion for philanthropy hasn’t stopped with tables. Employees making deliveries to single moms often see needs for other things — cost of groceries, utility bills, gas money, a new washing machine, or a yard badly in need of cleaning up. In May, Unruh launched Mom Fund to help pay for those extras. In the first month, it raised more than $5,000 from the sale of custom $35 T-shirts. It is, no doubt, the perfect storm of furniture design, historic preservation, and philanthropy. Unruh, 3601 Main St. Dallas, TX

        Go to Unruh's website to see more furniture, buy a T-shirt, or nominate a mom!